Champs & Chumps – Winter 2015-16

Illustration by Blaise Arsenault

Champs & Chumps – Winter 2015-16

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the editors

As southwest Montana becomes an increasingly attractive second-home destination for America’s wealthy elite, nowhere is the tension between affluent out-of-staters and working-class locals felt more acutely than on our trout streams—recreationists want access and landowners want privacy. The good news for the common folk (that’s us) is that state law guarantees access. The bad news is that landowners often use their vast wealth and political influence to prevent enforcement. In this ongoing David-and-Goliath battle, various parties occasionally distinguish themselves—for both good and bad behavior. Here’s a recap of recent heroes and zeros. 

The Public Land and Water Access Association (PLWA), for tirelessly defending public access from the onslaught of wealthy landowners whose illegal closures lock up our streams, rivers, and land. Run by a handful of salty old scrappers, PLWA takes the big dogs to court, and, more often than not, prevails. These legal victories restore dozens of river miles and thousands of acres to public use.

Author Don Thomas, for writing about billionaire James Cox Kennedy’s ongoing attempts to prevent public access to the Ruby River. In a no-holds-barred article, Thomas took Kennedy to task for his illegal acts and generally un-neighborly demeanor. The article ruffled feathers and eventually cost Don a job; but for him, principle is more important than pay. This is the guy you want on your side in a fight. 

Ducks Unlimited (DU), for firing Don Thomas after he wrote an unflattering article about James Cox Kennedy and his blockage of public access to the Ruby River. Kennedy is a financial supporter of DU, and the organization’s milquetoast managers sold Don down the river, despite his 15-year career as a columnist and field editor for their member magazine. A sportsmen’s group fires a longtime contributor for defending sportsmenEt tu, Brute?

Billionaire James Cox Kennedy, the landowner on the Ruby River who fenced off a historic public-access point and has since spent incalculable sums of money on legal maneuvering to keep it blocked off. When the Montana Supreme Court failed to find in his favor, and writer Don Thomas delineated his egregious disregard for both state law and Montana values, Kennedy’s minions at Ducks Unlimited agreed to have Don fired. That one's way below the belt.

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